If you change it, votes will come
Opinions / April 24, 2012
By Matt Law
The Canadian electoral system is miles behind if it wants to engage the youth vote. The system of paper ballots and liver-spotted talking heads resonates more closely with geriatrics stuck in the Dark Ages than it does with tech savvy 18-24-year-olds.
If Canada really wants to get youth to exercise a right that people in other countries are fighting for with their lives, we need change.
Canadian youth are no less passionate than those who took a stand in Tahrir Square. Nor are they the apathetic loafs the silver-haired generation dub as lazy.
The problem lies with our politicians and our archaic model of an electoral system.
President Obama was able to engage voters of all ages. He showed passion, thoughtfulness, forward thinking and offered hope for change.
What Canadian politician has done any of these things in recent years? Canada saw a glimmer of hope in Jack Layton’s Orange Crush, but was dealt a blow shortly after.
When politicians show they are fighting for a better Canada and not the prize for best vocals during Question Period, youth — and all voters — will respond.
The physical act of voting needs as much of a face lift as our politicians’ personalities. Until we have a system where technology is utilized to bring the voting process to the individual, voter turnout will continue to decline. Canada needs an electronic voting system that youth can access by simply pausing their game of Angry Birds and logging in on their smart phone or computer.
Of course, we can’t neglect the debate of complete electoral reform either. A move to a system of proportional representation may just give everyone a feeling that their vote does make a difference.
People bemoan the drop in youth votes of the past several decades, but it is not just youth who have become disenfranchised with the electoral system. A study done by Simon Fraser University after the 2011 election shows that there has been an overall drop in the number of registered voters exercising their democratic right. Is this decline a result of a slowly vanishing sense of patriotism and national connectedness that held strong — not just Canada but around the Western world — following the Second World War when voter turnout was at its peak?
The war years united Canadians, but our continually fragmented and divisive political system has forgotten that we are a nation that reaches from coast to coast to coast and represents people of all ages.
But those lazy, good-for-nothin’, high-falutin’ younguns don’t get a free ride in the “why aren’t they voting” debate.
In 2011, Elections Canada estimates that just 37.4 per cent of voters aged 18-24 showed up at polling stations. This is the lowest turnout of any age group.
The electoral system is a two-sided coin. Youth complain their voices go unheard in parliament. It’s true, but the harsh reality is that they are not making their voices heard in the system that we have – broken as it may be.